Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Politics after 1886

The Salisbury Government 1886-92
The main characteristic of the period 1886-1902 is the hegemony of the Conservatives under Lord Salisbury (Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd marquess, 1830-1903), three-time prime minister (1885-86, 1886-92, 1895-1902). However, this apparent dominance covered grave cracks in the party. The coalition with the Liberal Unionists created many problems. How was ‘Radical Joe’ to fit into a conservative agenda? Even without Chamberlain the Conservative party would have had problems. It was led by aristocratic, landed and Anglican elements but the bulk of its supporters were middle class and many were Nonconformist (having switched from the Liberals over Ireland).

Salisbury’s answer to this problem was to steer a middle path and sponsor modest reforms. He told his Chancellor, Lord Randolph Churchill (using Gladstone's vocabulary):
We have so to conduct our legislation that we shall give some satisfaction to both classes and masses.
Outside Ireland his government enacted two major pieces of social legislation.
(a) In 1888 local government in the counties was transferred from magistrates to elected county councils; this also involved the creation of the LCC – which to the annoyance of the conservatives soon fell under the control of metropolitan radicals.
(b) In 1891 elementary education was effectively made free – an expensive innovation.
Neither of these reforms was as radical as disaffected backbench Conservatives believed. The principal purpose of free education was to save the church schools from collapse. And in practice the local government reforms shored up the authority of the local elites.

The Liberal Government, 1892-95

The Liberals too had fundamental problems. The events of 1886 left them committed to Home Rule as the one issue that would relate them. According to Roy Jenkins, it was the only cause Gladstone was really interested in. But circumstances were driving them towards radicalism. In October 1891 a meeting of the National Liberal Federation at Newcastle adopted an uncompromisingly radical manifesto, the ‘Newcastle Programme’. It advocated church disestablishment in Wales and Scotland, triennial parliaments, payment of MPs and employers’ liability – with heavy implied warnings to the House of Lords if they resisted these reforms. Gladstone accepted these proposals reluctantly in order to preserve party unity.

The 1892 election was fought from mid-June to early July. The result gave the Liberals 273 seats, the Conservatives 268, the Liberal Unionists 47 and the Irish Nationalists 81. In the election two ‘independent labour’ MPs were returned; Keir Hardie for West Ham, and John Burns for Battersea. Gladstone had a majority of 40 because of Irish Nationalist support. The result was a disappointment to Gladstone who had expected a decisive victory:
a small Liberal majority being the heaviest weight I can well be called to bear.
It was an inadequate majority for intimidating the Lords. IOn 11 August the Salisbury government was defeated on an amendment to the address and on 15 August Gladstone, now semi-blind and semi-deaf became Prime Minister for the fourth time.

The Liberal cabinet contained Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th earl of Rosebery (1847-1929), a reluctant Foreign Secretary and Sir William Harcourt (1827-1904), Chancellor of the Exchequer. Two members of the younger generation gained high office: Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928) became Home Secretary and Edward Grey (1862-1933) Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836-1908) became War Secretary. One of the most impressive of the new intake of Liberal MPs was David Lloyd George (1863-1945) who in 1890 had been returned for the previously Conservative Caernarfon Boroughs in a by-election.

The Second Home Rule Bill
In February 1893 Gladstone introduced a second Home Rule Bill with a 2 ½ hour oration. It differed from the bill of 1886 in that there were to be 81 (not 103 as in the 1886 bill) Irish members, who were to be left at Westminster but allowed to vote only on Irish affairs (the ‘West Lothian question’ again). But the committee stage amended this on the grounds of its impracticality and gave the Irish MPs the full right to vote on all UK affairs. Like the 1886 bill, the bill of 1893 ignored the potential problem of Ulster. In July Chamberlain delivered a vicious attack on Gladstone, whom he accused of behaving like an imperious and cruel god; this led to an outbreak of fighting on the floor of the House. On 1 September the bill passed its third reading by the narrow majority of 34 votes, after 85 Commons sittings. On 8 September it was rejected by the Lords by 419/41. An excited mob cheered Salisbury through the streets as he made his way home.

The defeat was predictable but it left the government in a quandary. The bill had much more legitimacy than the 1886 bill. It had gone through all stages in the elected house, had emerged as a complete measure, and would have become law but for the Lords veto. Yet there was no immediate outrage.

On 23 February 1894 Gladstone resigned: a combination of failing health and a dispute with the Admiralty, who wanted to increase naval estimates. His stand against ‘militarism’ set him at odds with many of his younger colleagues and made him feel out of tune with his times. He had ended his career in a downbeat fashion. He died at Hawarden on 19 May 1898 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Gladstone had failed to groom a successor and his resignation led to a crisis in the party. Most Liberal MPs preferred Harcourt, but on 3 March the Queen sent for Rosebery; he had the backing of the London press, the Scottish wing of the party and most members of the cabinet. He was replaced at the Foreign Office by Lord Kimberley.

Rosebery, a horse-racing aristocrat, inherited a weak and divided government which lasted only 15 months. He was in a weak position leading a Liberal government from the Lords, which, he said was like addressing a crowd through a megaphone with a pudding in its orifice. The most important measure of his premiership was Harcourt’s famous (1894) budget, one of the most important in British history. It raised the basic rate of income tax to 1s. 8d, in the £, and introduced graduated death duties on the novel principle ‘that the state could tax capital and spend it as income’. Rosebery hated it, and in April 1894 he wrote his Chancellor a memorandum protesting that the Budget would forfeit the support of the propertied classes; Harcourt taunted him with wishing to protect his own pocket. Gladstone thought it
too violent ... by far the most Radical measure of my life time.
The ‘poor man’s budget’ was a sign of the ‘New Liberalism’, more committed to redistribution than to economic orthodoxy. However most of the new taxation came from increased duties of 6d on beer and spirits. The significance of death duties lay in the future.

Harcourt would have liked to have been bolder. He wanted to cut some taxes and to introduce old age pensions – a policy which was rapidly gaining support on the Liberal back benches. But his plans were put on hold by increased army and navy expenditure.

The government’s slowness to act on the issue of Welsh disestablishment led to a Commons defeat. The Queen asked Salisbury to form a government. The general election was fought in July 1895. It was a bad time for a governing party to fight an election. Unemployment was high and there were a myriad of grievances among traditional Liberal supporters – especially the brewers. The appearance of 28 socialist candidates may have helped to split the vote and was a warning that the Liberals had no monopoly on radicalism.

The Conservatives went into the election in a confident mood. The election of 1892 and three years of Liberal government had increasingly convinced Conservatives and Liberal Unionists that they would need to form an official coalition. This meant papering over the differences in temperament and political philosophy between the profoundly anti-democratic Salisbury and the populist Chamberlain. But in spite of their differences Chamberlain’s growing enthusiasm for empire brought them together. He was impressed by the economic arguments for imperial development as an antidote to economic depression and attracted by the notion of an imperial federation uniting the Anglo-Saxon race.

The Unionist victory was stunning; 340 Conservatives; 71 Liberal Unionists; 177 Liberals, 82 Irish Nationalists. [Keir Hardie lost his seat.]

The Third Salisbury Government, 1895-1902
Salisbury’s third administration was dominated by foreign policy. He was his own Foreign Secretary and Chamberlain was Colonial Secretary. One of Salisbury’s main concerns was to bring Britain out of the isolation into which Gladstone’s policies had led her. His nightmare was that there would be a European war in which Britain’s imperial possessions would become the spoils. Yet he did not want a full continental alliance. He maintained contacts with the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria, Italy) but in spite of difficulties with France in the Mediterranean and Egypt, he wanted to keep friends with France.

In 1898 a serious crisis occurred in Anglo-French relations. Sir Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916) had long wanted to recapture the Sudan, in spite of cabinet hostility. His strategy was to advance by short stages up the Nile. On 2 September an Anglo-Egyptian force of 26,000 defeated an army of 40,000 mahdists at Omdurman and went on to occupy Khartoum. The results of the battle were the destruction of mahdism in the Sudan, and British dominance of the area.

But this did not go unchallenged as France too had expansionist ambitions. In July Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand and his French troops had occupied Fashoda on the White Nile, having advanced from Senegal. On 18 September Kitchener’s force reached Fashoda, where he handed Marchand a written protest and hoisted the British and Egyptian flags. For some months Britain and France stood on the brink of war. In November Marchand quit Fashoda, though he left behind him a string of posts. Early in 1899 the French gave way. An Anglo-French convention in March fixed an Anglo-French dividing line (roughly the watershed between the Nile and the Congo). This was seen as something of a diplomatic triumph for Salisbury.

With the occupation of Egypt, Britain had less need of Turkey. As early as 1892 Salisbury was saying that it was no longer possible to protect British influence in the Ottoman Empire. Turkish massacres of the Armenians in 1894/5/6 inflamed British opinion in a way their earlier massacres of the Bulgarians had not done. It was clear to Salisbury that the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating and even in Tory circles there was now very little sympathy for Turkey. However there was no immediate move towards Russia. Instead, in 1902 Britain formally ended her policy of ‘splendid isolation’ when she signed an alliance with Japan, as a counter to Russian ambitions in China.

The fall of Parnell


This post owes a great deal to Paul Bew's entry on Parnell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

After 1886 Home Rule was the polarizing issue in British politics.

From March 1887 the Chief Secretary for Ireland was Salisbury’s nephew, Arthur Balfour, who was determined to assert the rule of law in that country. This was also the policy of his uncle, who believed that the Irish must take ‘a good licking’. Balfour stiffened the provisions of the Crimes Bill and subjected disaffected areas to a kind of martial law, under which Nationalist politicians, Roman Catholic priests and the poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt were imprisoned. In September 1887 an illegal demonstration took place at Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. The police panicked and fired into an unarmed crowd, killing three civilians and wounding others.

Balfour’s draconian policies earned him the nickname ‘Bloody Balfour’. Ireland once more became an issue of fierce party politics as ‘Remember Mitchelstown’ became a favourite Liberal war cry. On 13 November 1887 (‘Bloody Sunday’) a rally was held in Trafalgar Square, despite a banning order by the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Serious rioting erupted, leading to loss of two lives and some prominent arrests. So tense was the atmosphere that the government created the ‘Special Branch’ to protect the queen during her Golden Jubilee celebrations.

The Unionist strategy of coercion was risky but so was the Liberal one of investing so heavily in Irish nationalism and in Parnell. In 1887, The Times published a series of articles, “Parnellism and Crime”, in which the Home Rule leaders were accused of being involved in murder and outrage during the land war. It produced a number of facsimile letters, allegedly bearing Parnell’s signature; in one of the letters Parnell had excused and condoned the murder of T.H. Burke in the Phoenix Park which he had publicly condemned. Parnell immediately declared the letter a forgery and the government set up a Special Commission to investigate the charges made against Parnell and his party. The commission sat for nearly two years. Their findings concluded that the letters were forgeries. They had been bought in good faith by The Times from a disreputable Irish journalist, Richard Pigott, who had forged one of them with his own hand.

In February 1889, Pigott entered the witness box and admitted to having forged the letters; he then fled to Madrid, where he shot himself. Parnell’s name was fully cleared by the commission, and the Times paid a large sum of money by way of compensation. The closing months of 1889 marked the high point of Parnell’s popularity. He received a standing ovation in the House of Commons, was presented with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh. In December he stayed as Gladstone’s guest at Hawarden, planning for what seemed the inevitable Liberal return to office.

A much more serious threat to Parnell’s career was to follow. At the end of 1889, Captain O’Shea, filed for divorce from his wife, Katharine, and Parnell was named in the proceedings. (For Garrett Fitzgerald's review in the Guardian (21 June, 2008) of the latest biography of Katharine O'Shea, see here.) He did not defend himself and to most people it appeared to be another trumped-up charge. This time, however, he was not innocent. He and Katharine O’Shea had fallen in love when they first met in 1880. By that time her marriage to Captain O’Shea was breaking up. From 1886, Parnell and Katharine O’Shea lived together. There is no doubt that Captain O’Shea had been aware of Parnell’s relationship with his wife. To keep him happy Parnell had O’Shea elected as an unpledged Home Ruler to the Galway City seat in February 1886, despite opposition from his party. (Was O’Shea blackmailing Parnell?) It is not clear why O’Shea delayed until December 1889 before seeking a divorce. One possible reason was the hope of obtaining a large sum of money from his wife, when her aunt, Mrs. Woods (‘Aunt Ben’), died. Mrs. Woods left her entire fortune to Katherine, but in such a way that her husband could not get his hands on it. Captain O’Shea is said to have resorted to blackmail, asking for £20,000 from his wife but she refused to pay. It was after this that he went ahead with the divorce case.

The case caused a sensation in England and Ireland. In England The Times gave currency to the phrase ‘the Nonconformist conscience’ in an attempt to label Nonconformists as hypocrites. On the day after the verdict the Baptist minister, John Clifford, wrote:
Men legally convicted of immorality will not be permitted to lead in the legislation of the Kingdom.
It was not merely Nonconformists who were outraged. Parnell’s adultery galvanized the social purity movement into action, and Cardinal Manning issued a letter to English Catholics imploring them to put morality above politics. Gladstone told Parnell’s second-in-command, Justin Macarthy, that if Parnell continued leader, the Liberals would lose the next election.
But Parnell, a proud man, showed no intention of retiring. His refusal to step down produced a bitter spilt in the party. His old partner, Michael Davitt, along with another Irish MP, Tim Healy, urged the Irish party to dismiss Parnell. A meeting of the Irish Parliamentary Party was held on 1 December 1890.

The meeting lasted for several days. Desperately the party tried to achieve a compromise. It sought guarantees from Gladstone of a satisfactory home-rule measure if Parnell was to retire, but Gladstone refused to be pressurized in this way. Finally, when one of Parnell's supporters, John Redmond, referred to ‘the master of the party’, Tim Healy could not resist the malevolent quip:
Who is to be the mistress of the party?
Parnell bitterly retorted by describing Healy as that
cowardly little scoundrel … who dares in an assembly of Irishmen to insult a woman.
Healy later called Parnell ‘Mr Landlord Parnell’, introducing a note of aggressive Catholic nationalism into the debate.

After a long discussion as to whether the man (Parnell) was more important than the cause (Home Rule), the party split in two. Forty four members sided with Justin McCarthy, the vice-chairman, and remained in favour of the alliance with the Liberals, and twenty seven sided with Parnell. Parnell had now lost the leadership of the parliamentary party. He refused to accept the verdict given against him. Almost immediately afterwards at a by-election in Kilkenny, Parnell's candidate was beaten (22 December 1890) 2 to 1. In 1891 two more by-elections were held and in both the Parnellite candidates were beaten. On the campaign Parnell had mud thrown at him. He was subsequently and falsely accused of a whole range of exorbitant acts including embezzling party funds to pay for his affair.

In June 1891, he married Katherine O’Shea at Steyning registry office, profoundly shocking the Irish clergy, but he still refused to retire from public life. Eventually the strain of addressing meetings up and down the country proved too much for him. On 27 September while suffering from rheumatism he addressed an outdoor meeting in the rain. Returning to England gravely ill, he went home to his wife at Brighton and died on 6 October 1891. He was only forty-five years of age. 150,000 people attended his funeral at Glasnevin cemetery, his casket led by a group of radical Fenians.

Parnell was the architect of his own downfall. He refused to co-operate with the party during the critical time of the divorce dispute. His attitude was that of a ‘loner’ and so he was prepared to ignore the advice of his best friends. Despite this his achievements were real and lasting. He brought Home Rule from being a faint hope to the forefront of national politics. Both the English political parties and successive governments had to recognise the importance of the Irish question and declare their standpoint on it. By his creation of a disciplined party, he proved that Irishmen were capable of ruling themselves.

Perhaps he will be most remembered for the quotation that can be found on his statue at the junction of O'Connell Street and Parnell Street in Dublin City Centre:
'No man shall have the right to fix the boundary to the march of a Nation'.
But possibly his greatest legacy was the powerfully emotional image of Ireland’s ‘uncrowned king’ torn down by base followers; a prophet outcast with the Promised Land in sight.’
He is still remembered today on Ivy Day, 6th October, when supporters wear a sprig of ivy on their clothing.

Meanwhile agrarian agitation in Ireland was abating. With Ireland relatively tranquil, the policy (wrongly) called ‘Killing Home Rule with Kindness’ was pursued. Public money was invested in rural projects and new piers and harbours along the western seaboard. Ireland became relatively quiet until the beginning of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Home Rule splits the Liberals

Gladstone’s Conversion
In his brief period out of office Gladstone came to the conclusion that the Irish, like the Italians, the Afghans, the Zulus and the Sudanese were a people rightly struggling to be free, and that Parnell’s demand for Home Rule ought to be conceded. The conversion was a bombshell comparable to Peel's conversion to free trade.

The election of 1885: The conversion to Home Rule was not a single moment of decision and was not the result of an inner struggle. He believed he needed time to educate his party and for this reason his manifesto for the election was vague on Ireland. Most Liberal candidates ignored the Home Rule issue.

All this sent out the wrong signals to Parnell. On 1 August he held a secret meeting in Mayfair with the new Irish Viceroy, Carnarvon, and came to believe that he might get something substantial from the Tories - a supposition confirmed by a speech delivered (cynically?) by Salisbury at Newport in October. Accordingly, he urged his followers to vote Conservative and in a speech delivered on 21 November in his election campaign he roundly abused the Liberals as ‘perfidious, treacherous, and incompetent’. The Catholic clergy in Ireland also urged their flocks to vote for the Conservatives. Many Liberals were deeply resentful of the way they were attacked by the Nationalists.

Thanks to the newly enfranchised county voters, in the election of November - December 1885 the Liberals won 335 seats and the Conservatives only 249. But Parnell was the real winner as his party won 86 seats (85 out of 103 Irish seats and one in Liverpool), which exactly equalled the Liberal majority over the Conservatives. The result confirmed Gladstone’s view that Pitt’s Act of Union had been a mistake and that the Irish desire for home rule was unstoppable. But since in the absence of any statement from Gladstone the Parnellites were still in nominal alliance with the Conservatives, and Salisbury remained in office.

The ‘Harwarden kite’: Gladstone reached the conclusion that it was Salisbury’s duty to bring in a Home Rule Bill, which would reach the statute book since it would be supported by the Gladstonian Liberals and the Irish Nationalists. He did not wish it to be a party political isse. With this in mind he had discreet consultations with his political opponents rather than his political allies. But Salisbury was aware that Home Rule would split his party (he himself had resigned from Derby’s cabinet in 1867). He therefore told Churchill that Gladstone’s ‘hypocrisy makes me sick’.

In December Herbert Gladstone, who was acting as his father’s private secretary, inadvertently flew ‘the Hawarden kite’ in which he went to London and spoke with prominent Liberals with contacts in the press. On 17 December the Evening Standard published what it described as Gladstone’s plans for Home Rule; the Pall Mall Gazette went further
Mr Gladstone has definitely adopted the policy of Home Rule for Ireland.
Gladstone unconvincingly dismissed the articles as speculative, but his Liberal colleagues (especially Hartington) were horrified to find their names and (apparent) views discussed in the papers. This widened the rift between him and Gladstone.

In the new year, Gladstone then secured the agreement of his colleagues, apart from Hartington, that the government be brought down on a domestic (not Irish) issue. In January the government was duly defeated, but Hartington and 17 other Liberals voted with the Conservatives and 70 other Liberals, including John Bright, abstained; the abstainers knew very well that the real issue was Home Rule. The government was therefore overthrown by a mere 79 votes.

On 28 January Salisbury resigned and within 48 hours Gladstone was Prime Minister, much to (guess what?) the Queen’s dismay.

The Third Gladstone Administration, 1886
Gladstone thus headed a Liberal government about to implement a policy for which it had no mandate. Hartington refused to serve, though Chamberlain took office in the minor post of President of the Local Government Board. At the same time British opinion was hardening against Ireland both because of Parnell’s speeches and a recurrence of Irish outrages in London. Gladstone fatally misread the public mood and the mood of many in his own party.

The Home Rule Bill: On 20 March the Government of Ireland Bill was printed for cabinet distribution. On 26 March Chamberlain and Trevelyan resigned.

Gladstone’s principles behind his Home Rule proposals were (1) to preserve imperial unity, (2) to provide safeguards for the minority. This was shorthand for buying off the Protestant landlords, not for conciliating the Ulster Unionists and would entail considerable expenditure.
On 8 April the Bill was introduced. It was based on the Canadian model and had the effect of strapping Ireland firmly to the United Kingdom.
There would be a unicameral Irish legislative body which would consist of two ‘orders’ (a) representative peers and others elected on a £25 occupier franchise and (b) the existing 103 Irish MPs plus another 101 members elected along similar lines.
From the two orders an executive would gradually emerge via Privy Councillors as the Viceroy became like the Canadian Governor-General.
London was to retain control over defence, foreign policy, and international trade.
Ireland to bear one-fifteenth of imperial costs.
There would be no Irish MPs at Westminster, though Gladstone had agonized over this question. To exclude them would encourage separatism, but their inclusion in the Westminster parliament would raise what is now known as the ‘West Lothian question’.
The details of the bill mattered less than the fact that politicians on all sides were forced to realign their relationships.
Salisbury was determined to destroy Gladstone. With Lord Randolph Churchill’s help he raised the temperature so high that compromise became impossible. On 22 February Churchill had visited Belfast. Some weeks later he coined the slogan,
Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right.
On 2 March Salisbury defended Orange resistance in a speech in Crystal Palace. On 15 May he told an audience in St James’s Hall, Piccadilly, that the best way to govern Ireland was twenty years of coercion. He declared that ‘some races’ (he mentioned ‘Hottentots’ and ‘Hindoos’ but he also meant the Irish) were inherently incapable of self-government. He said that the best use for public money in Ireland was in promoting emigration.

The Liberals split: Gladstone had presented his party with a ‘take it or leave it’ bill.
On the introduction of the Home Rule Bill (8 April), Hartington declared his opposition. He insisted that Britain had a responsibility to secure law and order in Ireland and to protect property—not least that of Protestants with capital to invest in economic development. Gladstone claimed that his scheme guaranteed the continuing supremacy of the imperial parliament over Irish affairs, but Hartington regarded this as na├»ve.

Chamberlain also threw himself into the fight against Gladstone's proposals, for a combination of reasons, imperial, domestic, and personal: because they threatened to weaken the central government of the United Kingdom, because they took precedence away from his radical programme, and because they undermined his own standing in the Liberal hierarchy.

On 31 May and 1 June, Chamberlain and Hartington respectively held meetings with dissident Liberal MPs. In the early hours of 8 June the votes on the second reading were taken. Gladstone spoke of Ireland standing
at your bar, expectant, hopeful, almost suppliant.
Members voted 341/311 against Home Rule; 94 Liberals had gone into the lobby against Gladstone and another half dozen had abstained. Gladstone wrote in his diary:
The defeat is a smash.
In July Gladstone decided to call an election rather than resign and allow Salisbury to form another minority government. This led the dissident Liberals to form a distinct Liberal Unionist group under Hartington's leadership and to fight the ensuing election in tandem with the Conservatives.

Gladstone fought the campaign as another Midlothian, developing the theme of class division. In a speech in Liverpool he listed ten major reforms enacted during the previous half century and declared that
on every one of them without exception the masses have been right and the classes have been wrong.
In spite of Gladstone’s rhetoric, the Conservatives won 316 seats, the Liberals 191, the Liberal Unionists 78, and the Irish Nationalists 85. Scotland, Wales and Ireland all produced Home Rule majorities by almost three to one. Only England voted the other way. The central element in the Liberal defeat was the collapse of the Liberal agricultural vote.

Outside Westminster the Home Rule crisis accelerated the shift of middle and upper middle-class voting support from the Liberals to the Conservatives - helping to create Salisbury’s ‘villa Toryism’. The ‘unique duality of Ireland as both a domestic and an imperial concern’ meant that Conservatism became ever more stridently attached to empire. Salisbury was to be prime minister for 13 of the next 16 years. The transformation of British politics was part of a general European trend: the arrival of mass politics favouring right-wing governments.

In the Irish debates, Gladstone argued
This, if I understand it, is one of those golden moments in our history; one of those opportunities which may come and may go, but which rarely return, or if the return, return at long intervals, and under circumstances which no man can forecast.
In 1930 George V told Ramsay MacDonald.
What fools we were not to have accepted Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill. The Empire would not have had the Irish Free State giving us so much trouble and pulling us to pieces.
Was he right?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Victorian civic pride

The building of cities was a characteristic Victorian achievement, impressive in scale but limited in vision, creating new opportunities but also providing massive new problems. Perhaps their outstanding feature was hidden from public view - their hidden network of pipes, drains, and sewers, one of the biggest technical and social achievements of the age ... Yet their surface world was fragmented, intricate, cluttered, eclectic and noisy, the unplanned product of a private enterprise economy developing within an older, traditional society. …Economic individualism and common civic purpose were difficult to reconcile.… Asa Briggs, Victorian Cities.

Individualist preference for avoiding public enterprise whenever possible died hard. J.K. Ensor, England, 1870-1914.
Urban Growth
The Victorians continually commented on the speed of urban development. A north London rector wrote, ‘I have tried to keep Hornsey a village, but circumstances have beaten me’. The visitor to Birmingham could expect to find a street of houses in the autumn where he saw his horse at grass in the spring. In Victorian South London the houses could spring up in what seemed a single night.

Much of the effort went into church building, but particularly in the last quarter of the century there was a huge development of public offices, hospitals, schools, sewage farms, and water works.

Transport
Trains: The railway linked the new cities together and made their growth possible. The first railways encouraged the concentration of the urban population (contrast with the car which scattered cities further away from their centres). The first local passenger service to be authorized in London was started between Tooley Street and Deptford in 1863. The first workman’s fare was introduced in London by the Metropolitan Railway Company in 1864 and on a section of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1852. The Cheap Trains Act of 1883, which compelled the railway companies to offer workman’s fares was deliberately designed for further encouraging the migration of the working classes into the suburbs in order to relieve housing congestion in the central areas.

A new leisure industry sprang up in the wake of the railways. In 1841 a Baptist missionary named Thomas Cook conceived the notion of organizing excursions at a cheap rate and entered into negotiations with the Midland Railway Company to lay on special trains for private outings for temperance clubs and for Sunday schools. Thousands were taken by train to the Crystal Palace in 1851. Once Saturday half-holidays had become the normal practice in the 1860s trips were organized to places like Scarborough, Whitby, Blackpool, and Southport.

Trams: The first tram was introduced in Birkenhead in 1860 by the American engineer, George Francis Train. The Tramways Act of 1870 gave local authorities the option to buy out private tramways by compulsory purchase after twenty years of operation. By 1900 61 local authorities owned tramways and 89 undertakings were managed by private enterprise. The trams made it possible for working men to get to the football grounds and to the holiday firework displays and galas in the public parks.

London transport: In London, the advent of trams was fiercely resisted. But in the 1850s Charles Pearson, solicitor to the City of London, devised a plan to build an ‘Arcade Railway’ beneath the Faringdon Road to connect the Great Northern railway at King’s Cross with Faringdon in the City of London. The Great Northern agreed to subscribe £170,000, but one of its officials misappropriated the money and was transported for life.

The scheme was revived in the 1860s in the form of the Metropolitan Railway which would connect Paddington, Euston and Kings Cross to the Faringdon terminus. The Times condemned it as Utopian. Most of the capital was contributed by engineering firms, who hoped to gain contracts to build the proposed railway. The Metropolitan Railway was opened on 9 January 1863. The railway earned its shareholders reasonable dividends, though these were mainly due to the policy of building railways overground into the suburbs - Gladstone lost £25,000 worth of stock in 1884.

The Inner Circle was complete by 1884. The City and Southwark followed in 1890. An Act of 1893 authorized the Bakerloo Line to link Baker Street and Waterloo, though the building was held up by problems of funding.

The Northern Metropolitan Railway coined the term ‘Metroland’. In 1868 an independent railway company had opened a line from Baker Street to Swiss Cottage, and in 1880 the Northern Metropolitan extended it to Harrow. The slogan: ‘Live in Metroland’ showed that it was not so much satisfying existing needs as creating new residential districts.

The railway made chain stores and large department stores possible. W. H. Smith and Sons were directly dependent on the railway. They began to build their networks in the 1850s. Department stores began to flourish in London and the provinces in the 1880s and 90s.
Long distance commuting also became possible. In 1891 a commentator wrote of how ‘rich merchants and stockbrokers’ went up to town in the morning from Brighton, and returned in time for dinner.

Health
In 1869 Manchester appointed its first medical officer of health - Liverpool had been even earlier - 1847. But in general, it was not until after the 1870s that health conditions in the poorer parts of the cities began to improve. The Sanitary Commission of 1869-1870 collected ample evidence concerning the petty jealousies and unwillingness to spend money of the mid-Victorian Boards of Health. This was the prelude to the setting up of the Local Government Board in 1871, the Public Health Act of 1875, which divided the country into urban and rural sanitary districts with clearly defined duties, and the Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwelling Acts of the same year.

Civic Pride?
In spite of the problems, the political vitality Victorian city was a cause of civic pride. Liberal politicians in particular praised it for its progressive spirit and lack of deference. In contrast to the Dorset labourers, Manchester working men were not expected to touch their caps to their masters.

However the problems of the cities were increasingly recognized. During the 1880s and 90s the detailed study of the poorer parts of the city became highly systematic and organized, and social surveys founded on statistical investigation familiarized the reading public with the awkward facts of deprivation.

There was also the phenomenon recognized by European observers that wealthy manufacturers did not wish to live in the town but in the country. Ruskin, Morris, William Booth and other commentators expressed horror at urban life. The paradox is that the most urban society in the world was deeply ambivalent about urbanization. One religious novelist wrote:
Adam and Eve were created and placed in a garden. Cities are the result of the fall.
The settlement movement, seen in Toynbee Hall, founded in 1884, was an attempt to deal with the effects of urban deprivation.

In 1877 Manchester Town Hall was completed, and was at that date unequalled for size and convenience among the municipal buildings of Europe. Bradford’s Italianate town hall also dates from the ‘70s. In the great provincial cities, the ‘municipalization’ of the ‘natural monopolies’ became increasingly the vogue - though more from empiricism than from a collectivist ideology.



Birmingham and the Civic Gospel
This phrase is associated with the Birmingham Congregational minister, R.W. Dale.

During the 1870s and 1880s Birmingham (population 344,000) acquired the reputation of being the best governed city in the world. It had a very diverse labour force, skilled and therefore relatively prosperous. Housing was better than in most English cities, and there was a high degree of social mobility. In the early Victorian period it was the home of radical politics. From 1857 John Bright was one of the MPs. He had been defeated in Manchester because of his opposition to the Crimean War, but welcomed in Birmingham.
The radical tradition continued with the formation of the Birmingham Liberal Association in 1865. It campaigned with the Reform League for the extension of the franchise. The Association became a powerful body within the Liberal party, and in the general election of 1868 it secured the return of three Liberal MPs. This type of ‘caucus’ organization was unprecedented. In the following decade the main beneficiary was Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914).

Chamberlain had arrived in Birmingham in 1854 at the age of 18 and quickly established a reputation as a businessman and forceful personality. A Unitarian, he was drawn into politics by his opposition to Anglican privilege. He became a councillor in 1869 and in 1870 of the first School Board. Four years later he was chosen as Mayor as well as Chairman of the School Board. He was re-elected mayor in 1874 and 1875.

His three years of office from 1873 to 1876 saw the implementation of his civic gospel.
There is no nobler sphere for those who have not the opportunity of engaging in imperial politics than to take part in municipal work, to the wise conduct of which they owe the welfare, the health, the comfort and the lives of 400,000 people.
His radical programme in Birmingham and the caucus system of securing it were wildly controversial, yet both forced the problems of big cities into national prominence. ‘City government was never quite the same again.’

Chamberlain’s achievements in Birmingham were:
the purchase by the corporation of the gas-works, water-works and sewage farm
the destruction of the slums in the heart of the city
the provision of artisans’ dwellings
the extension of free libraries and galleries
Gas figured prominently in the working out of the civic gospel - it was the classic symbol of ‘improvement’. Chamberlain gave three reasons for ‘municipalizing’ the gas and water companies.
1. Financial: its profits could be used to improve the health of Birmingham.
2. All monopolies in any way sustained by the state should be in the hands of the elected representatives of the people, to whom their profits should of right go.
3. Municipalization would increase the power and influence of the local council, which should be encouraged to become a real local parliament, supreme in its own sphere of jurisdiction.
Agreement with the gas companies (the Birmingham Gas and Light Co and the Staffordshire Gas Light Co) was finally reached in March 1874. The first year’s profits greatly exceeded expectations. Plant was extended and modernized, the price of gas was lowered and the working conditions of the employees improved.

In the same year the Council began negotiations to acquire public control of the Birmingham Waterworks Company. This put up more of a resistance than the gas companies, and in the Lords the bill was bitterly opposed as ‘compulsory purchase’ and unjust to shareholders. The bill passed the House in August 1875 and the Works were transferred in January 1876.

Chamberlain’s third venture was his town improvement scheme. The 1875 Artisans’ Dwelling Act allowed corporations to purchase slum property for the purchase of clearance. Chamberlain saw in this not only an opportunity to clear away the slums in the centre but a chance to carry out a radical new town improvement. His intention was to create a new ‘Parisian Boulevard’ (Corporation Street) lined with blocks of modern dwellings - though when it was built the new street was composed of shops and office buildings. Work began in 1878. Corporation Street was opened as far as Bull Street in 1881.

As early as 1853 the Council bought the site of the future Council House but because of bickering and misunderstandings it remained undeveloped until 1870. In that year a proposal of the Estates Committee was at last accepted for the construction of ‘town buildings’ and Alfred Waterhouse was hired as a consultant. Chamberlain laid the foundation for the new buildings in 1874. They were completed in 1897. On the central pediment of the town hall was a sculptured group representing ‘Britannia rewarding the Birmingham Manufacturers’. The interior of the building included a mayor’s parlour, reception rooms and a semi-circular Council Chamber. The windows of the upper tier were filled with stained glass and both the walls and ceilings were ornamented with frescoes representing Birmingham industry.
Behind it stood the museum and art gallery.

In 1874 Chamberlain stood unsuccessfully for Sheffield. At a by-election in 1876 he was elected for Birmingham. In 1877 he reorganized the Liberal party in the constituencies by forming large local associations on a representative basis in federating them in a central organization, the National Liberal Federation. He was thus able to claim substantial credit for the Liberal victory in 1880. The election was regarded as a test of ‘the efficiency of the new democratic machinery of which Birmingham is the capital’.

Writers from all parts of the world went to Birmingham to report on what they saw there. In 1890 an American writer called it ‘the best governed city in the world’. The doctrine of ‘municipal socialism’ rapidly enveloped the 19th century city. In 1909 of the 74 county boroughs in England and Wales, 53 owned their water undertakings, 33 the gas supply, 65 electricity and 50 the tramways. Sidney Webb described the route of a town councillor as he walked along
the municipal pavement, lit by municipal gas and cleansed by municipal brooms with municipal water.
But for all its impressive achievements, Birmingham suffered the usual fate of Victorian cities - alternating between periods of civic spending and going slow. Battles about rates were endemic.

Click here for photographs of Victorian Birmingham.

Monday, 26 November 2007

The late Victorian countryside

Demography
The census of 1871 showed that out of a population of 31 million nearly two thirds of the inhabitants of Great Britain still lived in rural areas or in towns of less than 10,000 inhabitants - and many of the small towns were still more loosely tied to an agricultural rather than a manufacturing economy. Apart from London only five cities housed more than a quarter of a million people. Heavy urbanization was physically confined to certain localities: London and Middlesex, Lancashire and Durham, Staffordshire and Warwickshire, west-central Scotland and parts of south Wales. Suburbia was still limited and unknown as a word. Most people still lived near their place of work. Farm labouring was the largest male occupation. Even in industrial areas many urban-dwellers lived in walking distance of green fields.

But this Census was the last decennial survey for which this was true. The picture was irrevocably shattered by three factors
1. the agricultural depression
2. the gravitational pull of urban employment
3. the development of a cheap, suburban transport system.
Between 1871 and 1881 the urban population increased by over 25%. Buckinghamshire, Huntindonshire and Oxfordshire lost a quarter of their population. Much of Middlesex and Surrey was transformed by the extension of the underground railway. The prolonged building boom of the 1870s and 1880s encircled the towns with what Gerard Manley Hopkins called ‘a base and brickish skirt’. By 1911 out of a population of 45 million, 40% lived in towns of over 100,000 (in England and Wales more than 50%). Greater London had 7 million inhabitants and 14 provincial cities had over a quarter of a million. By 1914 only 8 % of the British population were employed in agriculture, compared with 27% in Germany and 38% in France. Daily commuting, not just from the suburbs but from the shires and the south coast had become common and rural England was beginning to aquire its role as a place for living and leisure rather than work. Of children born between 1901 and 1911, 80% were born in towns and cities, and probably grew up with an almost wholly urban outlook.

The Agricultural Depression
A whole combination of adverse circumstances combined to make the period 1877-1895 a dark time for British farmers, especially grain producers.
1. A series of wet summers, culminating in the wettest season in living memory in 1879 meant an alarmingly low yield in successive harvests.
2. Farmers could not raise prices because they could not compete against the produce of the American prairies where the McCormick reaper was cutting labour costs. By the 1870s American technology had advanced to the use of self-binders, while the new railroads and steamships were cutting transport costs.
3. The government refused to reintroduce agricultural protection - this was one of the reasons why Disraeli lost the election of 1880.
4. There was an outbreak of animal diseases: 1879 liver rot, 1888 foot and mouth.
The Assault on ‘Landlordism’
The political consequence was to strain relations between landowners and tenants, which led to widespread criticism of the whole landed order’ This was especially intense in Ireland and Scotland. In 1879 the Irish Land League was founded, its President Michael Davitt, its Secretary Charles Stewart Parnell (of whom much more later).

The winter of 1881-2 was particularly severe, and many Highland crofters were so destitute that they could no longer pay their rents. When the factors of the great estates tried to evict them, they retaliated by taking back grazing rights of which they had been deprived and by rent strikes. This escalated into violence at the ‘Battle of the Braes’ on Skye in 1882 when Glasgow policemen clashed with crofters. For the rest of the decade their were disturbances throughout the Highlands and gunboats and marines were sent in to quell them. The Crofters’ War ‘was the most severe crisis in the Highlands since the heyday of Jacobitism’. The crofters were supported by the Irish Land League and by a great deal of public opinion in Scotland.
There were similar disturbances in Wales.

In retrospect it can be seen that some of the attacks on landlordism were unfair. In the Celtic fringes, the problem was poor soil and an adverse climate, which left the landowners often powerless to effect improvements. Aristocrats such as the Dukes of Bedford and Argyll went into print to defend themselves. But perhaps the unfairness is beside the real point, which was a shift in political power. The widening of the franchise and the agricultural depression struck fatal blows at the aristocracy.

In England there was little rural violence, but the Liberal politician, Joseph Chamberlain delivered celebrated attacks on the aristocracy. On 30 March 1883:
Lord Salisbury constitutes himself the spokesman of a class - of the class to which he himself belongs, who toil not neither do they spin; whose fortunes - as in his case - have originated by grants made in times gone by for services which courtiers rendered kings, have since grown and increased, while they have slept, by levying an increased share on all that other men have done by toil and labour to add to the general wealth and prosperity of the country.
The Agricultural Worker
Agricultural workers were obvious sufferers from the depression and this lay behind much migration to the towns. However, as a group they were becoming more assertive.
In the 1870s they became unionized. At a meeting of Warwickshire labourers, a Primitive Methodist preacher, Joseph Arch, a labourer at Barford, made a revivalist speech calling for a farm workers’ strike, which raised him to the leadership of a movement. The strikers were given considerable publicity in the press, especially the Liberal Daily News, and on 29 March 1872 they founded at Leamington the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers’ Union. It spread rapidly and soon became a national union with a membership of nearly 100,000 at the end of 1872. But after a defeat over a Suffolk and Norfolk strike in 1874 membership fell rapidly, and with the decline in agriculture the union lost power.

In 1883 Chamberlain and his Liberal colleague John Morley led a fierce popular agitation in the country, coining the phrases ‘the Peers against the People’ and ‘Mend them or end them’. In 1884, partly as a result of this agitation, the Third Reform Act broadly aligned county and borough franchises, adding three million new voters. Combined with the secret ballot, already in existence, this freed small tenants from the political dominance of their landlords. This gave the Liberals a short-term advantage allowing them to gain a majority of English county seats in the general election of 1885; only in 1906 were they ever to do so again. But the Liberals could be certain of the rural vote only in East Anglia.

In 1888 the County Councils Act replaced the automatic dominance of the aristocrats and gentry with elected councils.

The Village
The village was changing rapidly, and in spite of the agricultural depression and depopulation, showed many signs of life.

The country parish of 1860 was very traditional: ‘the squire in his pew, his friend the parson in his stall, respectable farmers in pews, and on benches the labourers in smock frocks ... their wives often in scarlet flannel shawls’. But already in 1860 a maker of smock-patterns complained about the decline in trade, and in the 1870s only a few older men wore smocks. Instead the labourer’s Sunday best was the cheap town suit. This brought about a psychological change. ‘The labourer in his smock expected to go to church. The labourer in his black suit did not.’ Contemporaries had little doubt that the village church was in decline. Partly it was because the village itself was in decline, partly it was because the labourer himself was changing.

Every institution in the village declined as the young moved into the towns. The church was a particular sufferer. Rural clergy complained of empty pulpits. By the 1890s the value of tithes had declined by 25%. Between 1885 and 1905 the Easter offering used as a gift to the parson, spread rapidly through the country churches; after the turn of the century the Inland Revenue began to tax them!

The village was changing. The village school flourished as never before, staffed by better educated teachers, though one consequence was the Sunday schools declined in importance.
A new institution in the village was the Mothers’ Union, whose membership was a quarter of a million by 1912, the majority working class.

Another sign of strength was the building of village halls as meeting places for various social events. Partly this came from pressure from women who were not content with the public house. 48% of the total were built between 1880 and 1890. A high proportion of village halls were built on the initiative of the squire or parson, though Nonconformists gave generously and also spent freely at bazaars. The hall was usually regarded as a church hall, used, for example for Sunday schools and confirmation classes, but it was also used for secular functions. On the right is the village hall of Barnaby-in-the Willows, Nottinghamshire.

An Act 1894 provided for an elected council in villages of over 300 people. The churchwardens ceased to be overseers, the parson was no longer chairman and not even a member unless elected. The removal of secular business left the old vestry without a life, even though its legal existence was unaffected.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Gladstone's Second Administration

Gladstone’s second administration was elected in 1880. He was then 70 and until 1882 he was also Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as Prime Minister. The cult of the ‘Grand Old Man’ was now in full force. Biographies were written and statuettes, plates, jugs and engravings made (as well as chamber pots for Tory households) and visitors travelled to Hawarden to see him fell trees.

The Conservatives were temporarily demoralized. After Disraeli’s death in April 1881 they divided the leadership between Sir Stafford Northcote in the Commons, and the Tory intellectual, Lord Salisbury, in the Lords. Salisbury was much the more impressive personality, though his impetuosity led Gladstone to call him ‘Prince Rupert’. As early as 1882 he had coined the phrase ‘Villa Toryism’ to describe the new Conservative supporters, and in the years of opposition he played an important role in the long process of transforming the Conservatives from the party of the landed interest to the party of property in general. The quasi-medieval Primrose League, founded in 1883, became the largest political body in the country.

The early months of Gladstone’s second premiership were wasted on the affair of Charles Bradlaugh, a Liberal MP for Northamptonshire, who between 1880 and 1886 was not allowed to take his seat because he refused to take the parliamentary oath.

The whole affair allowed a group of younger Tory MPs to practise their debating skills and their opportunism. They soon became known as the ‘Fourth Party’ and their leader was Lord Randolph Churchill. In 1884 he and Salisbury came to an agreement by which Salisbury became, in effect, the sole leader of the Conservatives.

Franchise reform
The increasing ‘democratization’ of political life in the 1870s had led to a growing recognition that the Second Reform Act contained indefensible anomalies. The great towns and cities still lacked their rightful number of MPs and the small boroughs were heavily over-represented. The anomalies relating to the franchise were even more absurd. Since the vote in 1867 had been granted only to urban householders, industrial workers living outside the borough boundaries (such as miners) did not have the vote while farm labourers living in boroughs possessed it.

The contribution of the National Liberal Federation to Gladstone’s victory meant that not only was its founder, Joseph Chamberlain, MP for Birmingham since 1876, rewarded with a seat in the cabinet, but that the government was committed at least in principle to some measure of parliamentary reform. By 1883 Chamberlain’s patience could no longer be contained. The government passed three major reforming measures:
1. The Corrupt Practices Act (1883) restricted treating at elections.
2. The Third Reform Bill was introduced in February 1884. essentially created a uniform householder and lodger franchise based on that introduced for the English boroughs in 1867. An amendment to give women the vote was defeated 271/135. The bill was initially blocked in the Lords but Salisbury eventually agreed to let it go through provided it was accompanied by a redistribution measure.
3. The Redistribution Act (1885) engineered the most extensive reform of the constituencies since 1832. The majority of seats were now single-member and of roughly equal size though the largest cities received between three and six new MPs apiece. Because this disaggregated city constituencies into smaller units, many of them suburban, the Conservatives were the main beneficiaries. Salisbury’s predictions about ‘villa Toryism’ proved correct.
Following these reforms the United Kingdom electorate increased from 2.53 million in 1871 to 5.68 million at the end of 1884. By 1891 61% of adult males had the vote.

Egypt
Gladstone had been elected on a largely anti-imperialist platform and it is one of history's ironies that under his premiership the Empire expanded significantly. One of his government's most controversial actions was the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.

At the beginning of the 1880s Egypt was a largely Turkish province whose strategic importance had been greatly increased by the completion of the French-inspired and French-financed Suez Canal in 1869. French predominance was somewhat redressed by Disraeli’s raid on the Suez Canal company, but this coup had been strongly opposed by Gladstone who had condemned it as a showy and dangerous example of ‘Beaconsfieldism’. In 1879 Khedive Ismail was deposed at the instigation of various European powers and replaced by his docile son, Tawfiq. At the same time the Egyptian finances were put under the so-called Dual Control of Britain of officials from Britain and France.

For all Gladstone’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, it was difficult to avoid entanglement in Egypt. Not only did it occupy a strategic position, but it had an enormous national debt which consumed two thirds of its revenue and was financed by bonds among the propertied classes of Vienna, Paris, and London. Gladstone had intensive holdings in Egypt, though neither he nor anyone else saw a conflict of interest. How times change!

But Egypt was vulnerable to charismatic opponents of European interference. In 1881 and 1882 coups were staged by a Nasser-like figure, Colonel Urabi Pasha (the name is variously transliterated) whose core message was ‘Egypt for the Egyptians’. In May 1882 British and French naval forces arrived off Alexandria to protect their respective ‘interests’. On 11 June an anti-Western riot in the town left 50 Europeans dead and another 60 injured, including the British consul. Urabi then began to fortify the harbour at Alexandria, event though a British fleet was lying off-shore.

Gladstone believed that Urabi had to be stopped. His preference was for a ‘Concert of Europe’ intervention, but this was blocked by Bismarck. The French were reluctant to get involved and their fleet simply steamed away from Alexandria. Most of Gladstone’s cabinet were firm for action.

On 11 July under the command of Admiral Seymour British naval guns pounded the Alexandria waterfront for ten and a half hours after which 40,000 men were landed under Sir Garnet Wolseley. There were not vast casualties, though substantial death and destruction took place in rioting when Urabi left the city. On the same day Gladstone made a statement in the Commons and was torn apart for his inconsistency by Arthur Balfour. The action caused John Bright to resign from the cabinet. He said in private that it was
simply damnable - worse than anything ever perpetrated by Dizzy.
By the end of July the government was geared to a land expedition to back up the bombardment. 15,000 men were sent from England and another thousand from India under the command of Wolseley (the costs met by raising income tax from 5d to 8d for half the current financial year).

The expedition was a quick action. Urabi declared a jihad but on 13 September his army was defeated at Tel-el-Kebir, 59 miles north-east of Cairo. British casualties were under 450. Urabi was captured, tried, made to plead guilty and then exiled to Ceylon. It was a spectacular exhibition of British supremacy. On hearing of his capture Gladstone ordered church bells to be rung and the guns to be fired in the London parks to mark the triumph. He welcomed the troops home with obvious enthusiasm. As Roy Jenkins says in his biography of Gladstone,
Within two months, only half by intention, Britain had put a lid on Egyptian nationalism, which was to be kept down for more or less seventy years, extruded French political and military ... influence, and assumed responsibility for the most prosperous and sophisticated country in Africa.
But the Khedive remained the nominal ruler, and Britain refused to accept permanent responsibility for Egypt. In September Major Evelyn Baring was knighted and sent out to Egypt as British agent and consul-general. As Lord Cromer, he remained in Egypt for 23 years – though the occupation was meant to be temporary.

Britain’s actions had huge significance. France felt itself out-manoeuvred and the way was prepared for the Franco-Russian alliance of the early 1890s.

Gordon and the Sudan
Occupation of Egypt (temporary or otherwise) opened up the question of what was to be done about the Sudan, whose order was the responsibility for the Khedive, acting for the Sultan. In the Sudan Egypt’s authority had been challenged by a religious uprising led by a militant leader, Mohamed Ahmed, the Mahdi, a former slave trader and an Egyptian official. He had been declared a ‘False Prophet’ by orthodox Islamists, and the Khedive was determined to put him down. He sent an army of 10,000 Egyptian troops under a British commander, William Hicks (‘Hicks Pasha’), to achieve it. In retrospect the British government should have vetoed this.

In November 1883 just as the Cabinet was preparing the further reduction of its Egyptian garrison, the army was ambushed and Hicks killed. Most of the Sudan was now in the Mahdi’s hands. In January the government decided that the Sudan had to be evacuated, but a great difficulty arose over the scattered Egyptian garrisons, especially the ones centred round Khartoum.

British public opinion was outraged and edgy. A head of steam built up, led by W. T. Stead’s Pall Mall Gazette, to send out Major-General Charles Gordon, then in semi-retirement in order to carry out the policy of supervising the British evacuation - in spite of the fact that in both the Pall Mall Gazette and The Times Gordon had publicly opposed the policy. He was also a messianic, unstable character.

In January 1884 Gordon was appointed. He set off from Charing Cross (the foreign secretary had to buy his ticket) and arrived at Khartoum in February and formulated a plan to commission Zobeir Pasha, a former slave-trader, as governor-general of the Sudan to hold Khartoum and the Nile valley against the Mahdi.

In May the Mahdists advanced and Gordon was cut off at Khartoum. For a while the government did nothing - Gladstone was immersed in the details of the Third Reform Bill - and it was only in August that a relief force under Wolseley was despatched to the Sudan. They did not reach Khartoum until 28 January 1885. Gordon had been killed two days earlier after a siege of 320 days. His body was never found. News of his death reached England on 5 February.

[Even though El Mahdi died shortly after the fall of Khartoum, his Mahdist Islamic regime survived until 1889 when the Anglo-Egyptian forces under Kitchner captured Khartoum, regained control and proclaimed a British-Egyptian condominium dominated mainly by British policies. The British presence would last until 1956 when Sudan got its independence.]

Gladstone had viewed Gordon as an insubordinate general and a religious fanatic, and he was unable to grasp his hold on the popular imagination. When he heard the news he was in north Lancashire. Gladstone was furiously denounced by Opposition MPs. At Carnforth Junction, on his way down to London, he received a telegram en clair from the Queen, which was promptly leaked to the press. When Gladstone was seen at the theatre, he was promptly dubbed by the Tories as heartless. The popularity of the government declined steeply and Gladstone acquired the nickname ‘Murderer of Gordon’. A vote of censure in the Commons was defeated by only 14 votes.

By this time Gladstone's government was in deep trouble, not merely because of Gordon but also because of problems in Ireland (of which more later) and internal divisions between aristocratic Whigs like Hartington and Radicals like Joseph Chamberlain.

The fall of the government
By 1885 Gladstone’s government was battered. It was torn by internal tensions between Joseph Chamberlain who resented the inattention to social reform and by the Whigs who detested the Irish policy. (There will be a subsequent post on Ireland.) The Gordon affair administered the final blow.

In the spring of 1885 the Cabinet began to quarrel once more over whether or not to renew the Coercion Act of 1882. Chamberlain and his fellow Radical, Sir Charles Dilke wanted coercion dropped and a system of elected county councils in Ireland. Almost all the Whigs in the cabinet opposed the plan. In May Chamberlain and and Dilke resigned.

On 8 June the ‘Ministry of all the Troubles’ was defeated by 12 votes over the budget - largely as a result of heavy (76) Liberal abstentions. The new electoral registers were not yet ready, so there could be no general election for months to come. Gladstone resigned and Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister for the first time, at the head of a minority Conservative administration.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Midlothian campaign

The troubles in South Asia and South Africa contributed to the government’s run of troubles. Domestically, unemployment was rising and the municipal elections had gone badly. A Farmers’ Alliance, formed in July 1879 began to put up candidates at by-elections demanding government assistance and a return to protection.

Disraeli also faced a resurgent Gladstone, even though Hartington, the heir of the duke of Devonshire, was the nominal leader of the Liberals. Hartington had disagreed with Gladstone’s policy on the Ottoman Empire, believing that, though Disraeli was wrong to offer unconditional support to Turkey, it was a mistake to encourage Balkan nationalism.

Gladstone, who was also unhappy with his Greenwich constituency, became convinced that it was right to accept an invitation from the marginal (and small) Conservative seat of Midlothian. After a survey revealed that the Liberals would almost certainly win the seat, he had announced his candidature in January 1879 and his determination to smash ‘Beaconsfieldism’ which he saw as an amoral programme of profligate expenditure and an unjust foreign policy..

In November 1879 he arrived in Scotland and began a fortnight’s ceaseless campaigning in Midlothian and the surrounding districts (24 November to 8 December). He progressed by train from Liverpool to Edinburgh with intermediate station speeches at Carlisle, Hawick, and Galashiels. The first week was devoted to strict Midlothian campaigning - nine speeches of which five were major orations - the second week to campaigning in other Scottish towns and cities.

What was novel about Gladstone’s actions was the delivery of a large number of connected speeches over a short period. The news agencies, freed from high charges by the Telegraph Act (1868) meant that his speeches were widely and speedily reported in four or five columns. Yet above all it was Gladstone’s physical presence that gave his speeches their electrifying effect. Enthusiasts came from all over Scotland to hear them. In Waverly Market, people who fainted were handed out over the heads. His message was simple: ‘Beaconsfieldism’ was rotten in every respect. His attacks focused above all on foreign affairs and finance. The most morally powerful speech was about Afghanistan:
Remember that ... the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God as can be your own.
In March 1880 Disraeli, buoyed up by some by-election successes, announced the dissolution of Parliament. A week later, Gladstone journed to Edinburgh from London and was greeted by thousands at all the major stations of the east coast route. He then delivered a second round of speeches. His victory was declared on 7 April

The return of Gladstone
The final result was a Liberal increase from 243 to 351 seats, and a Conservative loss from 352 to 239. Especially noteworthy was the Liberal gain of 38 county seats in England and Scotland. Disraeli blamed the result on ‘six bad harvest in succession’.

Hartington, who had just been returned for North-East Lancashire, was in a difficult position because Gladstone stated that the unexpectedly decisive Liberal majority called for ‘skilled and strong hands’. The Queen wanted anyone but Gladstone to be Prime Minister. She wrote to her Secretary, Ponsonby:
She will sooner abdicate than send for that half-mad fire-brand who wd ruin everything & be a Dictator. Others but herself may submit to his democratic rule but not the Queen.
But Hartington knew he would be in an impossible position as Prime Minister, with Gladstone on the back benches. When Hartington was summoned to Windsor he recommended that Gladstone be sent for. Victoria reluctantly agreed and Gladstone became Prime Minister for the second time on 23 April. Gladstone to Bright:
You and I probably both think we see the hand of God manifest in what has been going on.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Second Afghan War

The problem of Afghanistan was a by-product of the whole Eastern crisis, the threat of Russia’s advance into central Asia. As early as the 1830s Russian agents had established themselves in Kabul and the First Afghan war (1839-42) was successfully fought to oust them (though in 1842 an entire British army was annihilated during a mid-winter retreat from Kabul). From the period of the Mutiny or even earlier there had been two opposed schools of thought about the north-west frontier:
1. the advocates of the ‘Forward Policy’ such as Lords Dalhousie and Canning believed that India would not be secure unless Afghan foreign policy was conducted on advice from British India.
2. the proponents of ‘masterly inactivity’ such as Lawrence regarded the Indus rather than the Hindu Kush as the natural frontier of India and considered that the barbarous tribes beyond should be left alone unless they showed some signs of attempting to cross it.
Disraeli believed that the Russian advance into central Asia invalidated the ‘masterly inactivity policy’. The new Viceroy, Lord Lytton, was told that his first task would be to persuade the Amir, Sher Ali, to receive a permanent British mission. The Amir prevaricated. In July 1878 he received a Russian delegation at Kabul. Lytton was determined to compel the Amir to receive a British mission and to dismiss the Russians. The first demand was reasonable, but the second was provocative, only justifiable on the grounds that a major confrontation with Russia was necessary. But at the same time government ministers in London were negotiating with St Petersburg over the matter and did not want Lytton to send his mission until the negotiations were finalized.

On 13 September Lytton received a telegraph ordering him not to enter Afghanistan until the British had received a reply from the Russians. However, on 21 September he ordered British troops into the Khyber Pass - a route that the Amir had forbidden - he wanted the British to use the route through Kandahar.

General Chamberlain was turned back at the frontier, a rebuff which made war inevitable. Disraeli was furious with Lytton but sure that he must be supported. In November the cabinet sent an ultimatum to the Amir. Meanwhile at his annual oration at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, Disraeli referred to India’s north-west frontier as ‘a haphazard and not a scientific frontier’ and hinted that steps would soon be taken ‘to terminate all this inconvenience’.

The Amir made no reply to the ultimatum and hostilities became inevitable. The British campaign went well, thanks largely to the brilliant operations of the column commanded by General Sir Frederick Roberts. Sher Ali fled to Turkestan, leaving the country in charge of his son, Yakub Khan. In May 1879 he signed a treaty with the British, and a mission was installed under a new Resident, the gallant but gullible Sir Louis Cavagnari. There was no reaction from Russia and Lytton’s policy seemed to have been vindicated.

On 3 September he and his entire staff were slaughtered by mutinous Afghan soldiers in Kabul. For the second time Roberts conducted a mountain campaign. On 13 October he entered Kabul in triumph, having routed a large Afghan army with well-directed volleys of Martini-Henry rifle fire. He was rewarded with a peerage, granted him from Kandahar. However, as Disraeli admitted in private, the government had suffered a serious blow to its prestige.

The fundamental question facing the British government was what to do about Afghanistan: break it up into petty states, possibly keeping Kandahar as a strategic ‘outwork’ or find a new ruler for the country and withdraw. In April 1880 the Liberals won the general election. In July a field force of 2,000 British and Indians under Brigadier George Burrows set out from Kandahar to support a force of 6000 British equipped and allegedly friendly tribesmen in putting down a rebellion by Ayub Khan, the new governor of Herat. In the event most of the ‘friendly tribesmen’ mutined and went to join Ayub, leaving Burrow to face the rebel army alone. The British were surprised by an Afghan army at Maiwand and suffered 1,300 casualties. The survivors retreated to Kandahar, where the Afghans besieged them.

A strong column was at once assembled at Kabul on 8 August, arriving at Kandahar on 28 August, having travelled over 300 miles in 20 days. This column relieved the demoralized Kandahar garrison. On 1 September Roberts launched an attack on the Afghan army. Under heavy fire the Highlanders and Ghurkas stormed the Afghan positions and drove them out of their entrenchments, capturing all their guns.

With the arrival of a new Viceroy, Lord Ripon, Afghanistan’s independence was acknowledged, with the exception of foreign affairs, which were conducted from Delhi. In the autumn the British withdrew from Kabul. Afghanistan slipped into the background and did not play a major role in international politics for the next hundred years. From 1919 it was officially independent and neutral.

The Bulgarian crisis

When Disraeli took office in 1874 it is doubtful if he had any clear ideas on foreign policy other than doing something to reassert Britain’s power in Europe. His foreign secretary, Derby, was an extreme isolationist.

In July 1875 an insurrection broke out in Herzegovina on Turkey’s ‘’North-West Frontier’, and spread to Bosnia. Within the following twelve months the Sultan Abdul Aziz defaulted on his debts, about 30% of which was in British hands. This led to consternation in the City. Disraeli wrote to Lady Bradford.
I really believe that the ‘Eastern Question’ that has haunted Europe for half a century, and which I thought the Crimean War had adjourned for another half will fall to my lot to encounter - dare I say to settle.

What was the ‘Eastern Question’? In 1875 Turkey was in possession of a vast, polyglot Empire covering most of the Middle East and stretching into Europe and including modern Bulgaria, Albania, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. The Sultanate was a cruel and corrupt regime, and it only survived because of the dissensions of the great powers. Militarily, Turkey no longer counted. The powers principally concerned were Russia, Britain, and Austria-Hungary. The main conflict lay between Russia and Britain. Austria was on the sidelines - she wanted the preservation of Turkey, but if Turkey collapsed, she wanted to seize a share of the spoils. Most of Turkey’s European subjects were Orthodox Christians, who looked to Russia for support. The Tsars were dubious about pan-Slav sentiment, but, however autocratic they were, they could not entirely ignore public opinion in Russia.

It was an article of faith of British diplomacy that Turkey had to be protected. There was deep mistrust of Russian intentions towards India. The fear was either that the Russians could march overland to India or obtain the same result indirectly by cutting off the British route to India.

Both these dangers were exaggerated. It is true that during the 1860s Russia conquered a number of oriental kingdoms in central Asia, but the distance to India remained vast, and the Russian government never contemplated the conquest of India. The building of the Suez Canal lessened the Russian threat; and Constantinople was a thousand miles from Suez. (Lord Salisbury, the Colonial Secretary, who was sceptical about the Russian threat, believed that the British were using maps on too small a scale.) Britain’s obsession with the Eastern Question sprang from reflex and habit rather than clear thought. It was also becoming embarrassing because of the abuses of Turkish rule.

Disraeli instinctively lacked sympathy with the struggle for the Balkan nations to be free. He saw the Bosnian demand for independence as similar to Ireland’s. As he wrote to Lady Bradford,
Fancy autonomy for Bosnia, with a mixed population. Autonomy for Ireland would be less absurd.
He feared that if Britain were seen to support Bosnian independence, it would be difficult to deny it to Ireland. He had visited parts of the Turkish empire in 1830-1 and like many travellers in the region, he preferred the Turks to their Christian subjects.

In May 1876 Turkey once more came into the headlines with the murder of the French and German consuls at Salonika by pro-Muslim rioters. The Northern Courts (the conservative Dreikaiserbund, Berlin, St Petersburg and Vienna) protested to the Sultan in a document called the Berlin Memorandum. They asked Disraeli to sign, but he refused, though the Queen had misgivings about his refusal. She rightly believed that it might give the Sultan a false sense of security and allow him to continue with his misrule.

On 30 May Abdul Aziz was deposed and later found dead in suspicious circumstances. He was succeeded by his nephew, Murad V. For a while there was hope that he would introduce reforms and Disraeli felt justified in abstaining from the Berlin Memorandum. But at the end of June, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on Turkey, and this gave new impetus to the Bosnian revolt.

On 23 June, the liberal Daily News alleged that 25,000 men, women, and children had been slaughtered by Turkish irregular troops (in fact, there were nearer 12,000 - and when this figure was confirmed many thought this quite bad enough). Disraeli, who disliked the politics of the Daily News, was instinctively sceptical about the atrocity stories; he had taken the same line at the time of the Indian Mutiny. His own information came from the pro-Turkish ambassador in Constantinople, Sir Henry Elliott.

The country was in an uproar over the massacres. But when the question was raised in the House, Disraeli played down the massacre stories and even appeared to make a heartless joke about them. He was relieved when Parliament shut down in August, and hoped that the whole business would blow over. He continued to refer to ‘atrocities’ in inverted commas, even though news reaching the Foreign Office confirmed that they had taken place. In August a second revolution in Constantinople deposed Murad V and installed his half-brother, Abdul Hamid, whose accession was greeted with misplaced enthusiasm by Turcophiles.

But his hopes that the crisis would go away were dashed by the publication in September of Gladstone’s Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East. It was written in three days while in bed with lumbago. He completed it in the British Museum, which had been alerted of his arrival. The pamphlet caused a sensation. 40,000 copies were sold within a week, 200,000 by the end of September.
Let the Turks ... one and all, bag and baggage ... clear out from the province they have desolated and profaned.
The situation was tailor-made for Gladstone. Hartington’s mistress, the duchess of Manchester unfairly told Disraeli,
That gentleman is only waiting to come to the fore with all his hypocritical retirement.
But in fact, he had been under pressure to speak out. It was not political opportunism in the usual sense of the word. Gladstone responded slowly to the Bulgarian atrocities. He had believed that his retirement from the Liberal leadership would be permanent. The election defeat showed him he had lost the support of the ‘virtuous masses’. But now suddenly he saw that this agitation might regain it for him.

Three days after the publication of the pamphlet, Gladstone delivered the first of his speeches on the Eastern Question at Blackheath. It was a memorable occasion and from this time his public oratory became a major feature of British politics.

Gladstone’s intervention brought out all Disraeli’s obstinacy. He described the pamphlet as
vindictive and ill-written ... of all the Bulgarian horrors perhaps the greatest.
In a speech to his constituents at Aylesbury (before he went to the Lords), he spoke of ‘designing politicians’ who exploited the noble sentiments of the British people for sinister ends. When the Conservatives later held the seat, it was regarded as a vindication of his policies.

The nation divides
Gladstone’s decision to lead the atrocity campaign injected a bitterness into British politics unequalled since the Corn Law debates. The country was divided into ‘Turks’ and ‘Russians’. Disraeli denounced his opponents as ‘priests and professors’.

The priests: The strength of the ‘atrocitarians’ was relatively weak in Scotland, and hardly existed in Ireland. It lay in the north of England (where there were great demonstrations to greet Gladstone), the south-west, and Wales. It coincided with the geographical distribution of nonconformity. Protestant nonconformists like the charismatic preachers C. H. Spurgeon and R. W. Dale were atrocitarian. On the other hand, Irish silence can be explained by the cool attitude of the Vatican to the Orthodox Church.
The Church of England with the exception of the High Church (Canon Liddon of St Paul’s) was in general anti-atrocitarian. Evangelicals, who comprised the majority of the inferior clergy, were strongly pro-Disraeli.

The professors: The intelligentsia were divided. Most historians (Stubbs, Green, Freemen) were atrocitarian. The agitation was supported by Ruskin, Browning, Trollope, Darwin, Spencer as well as by Liberals like Henry Fawcett.

But many of the younger generation were more imperialist and did not support the agitation: Alfred Milner, Herbert Asquith. The controversy marks a watershed in intellectual attitudes - the change from mid-Victorian to late-Victorian Liberalism.

Thomas Carlyle’s support of the agitation is surprising, but he respected Russia as a strong power. On the other hand, Matthew Arnold saw the agitation as smacking too much of the ‘hebraic philistinism’ of Nonconformity.

Many working-class radicals sided with Gladstone: George Holyoake, Henry Broadhurst. But there was another strand of working-class opinion - robust, patriotic popular Toryism. There was always a suspicion that the atrocitarians were middle class.
The press, with the exception of the Daily News, was behind the government. The Telegraph, owned by the Jewish family of Levy-Lawson, was pro-Turk.

The Queen was emphatically anti-atrocitarian, and her known views influenced London society. She had not previously been pro-Turk, but Gladstone’s conduct had outraged her. Her pathological animus against Gladstone dates from this time. She described his behaviour (to her daughter) as ‘reprehensible and mischievous’ and called him ‘that mischief-maker and firebrand’. Disraeli wrote to Derby about
that unprincipled maniac Gladstone - extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy, and superstition.
Few political issues have raised such venomous feelings. The Church Times described Disraeli as the ‘Jew Premier’. The feelings were intensified when on 21 October Alexander II delivered an ultimatum to Turkey in which Russia threatened to act if Turkey did not introduce reforms. On 9 November at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, Disraeli made a speech on the Eastern Question, declaring his support for ‘the territorial integrity of Turkey’. Though he went out of his way to be polite to Russia, he ended describing Britain’s resources for a righteous war as ‘inexhaustible’. This led the historian Edward Freeman to refer in print to ‘the Jew in his drunken insolence’. Gladstone said: ‘The provocation offered by Disraeli is almost incredible’.

The Russo-Turkish War
In May 1877 Russia and Turkey went to war and for the first three months Russia won easy victories. Salisbury advised moderation. Derby, the Foreign Secretary, told the Russian ambassador, Shuvalov, a strong opponent of pan-Slavism, of cabinet disagreements. But the Queen’s language was so extreme that it was embarrassing and Disraeli had to remind her that the Cabinet was committed to neutrality. On 9 December Plevna fell after a long siege. In January 1878 Russian troops reached Adrianople. Public opinion shifted from criticism of Turkey to ‘an excited Russophobia’. The Queen wrote,
Oh, if the Queen were a man, she would like to go and give those horrid Russians whose word one cannot trust such a beating.
Gladstone was hooted in the street and a musical hall song coined the word ‘jingoism’.

The Treaty of San Stefano
In the early months of 1878 and Anglo-Russian war seemed likely to break out at any moment. In February preparations were made for an expeditionary force which might have prevented Russia from seizing the Dardanelles. But when in March Russia imposed the strongly Pan-Slavist Treaty of San Stefano (a village outside Istanbul) on the Turks, extending Russia’s Asian territory and creating ‘big Bulgaria’ it was a step too far for both Britain and Austria.

The Congress of Berlin
In early March a decision was made in principle to hold a congress in Berlin (13 June - 13 July), with Bismarck, the German Chancellor, acting as honest broker. This was the most imposing gathering of diplomats Europe had seen since the Congress of Vienna. At the age of 73, Disraeli made the journey, together with his new Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury.

Disraeli got his way over Bulgaria in all essentials, and Britain also acquired the right to occupy and administer the previously Turkish island of Cyprus in order to protect her route to India. He returned from Berlin claiming that he had brought
peace with honour.
The Congress gave Austria-Hungary the right to administer Bosnia-Herzegovina in a form which denied Serb aspirations. Other provisions included the protection of the Armenians and other religious minorities.

The occupation of Cyprus was condemned by Gladstone. This led Disraeli to say that
a sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself.

Disraeli (1804-1881) and Conservatism


Disraeli became Prime Minister for the second time in February 1874. This was his second period as Prime Minister as from February to October1868 he had headed a minority, caretaker administration, following Derby’s resignation because of ill health (gout). The Queen though this:
A proud thing for a Man “risen from the people” to have obtained.
Disraeli:
I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole.
During the years of opposition the Conservatives built up grassroots support. The Conservative Central Office was set up in 1870 and new associations were set up in many constituencies. In the election of February 1874, the Conservatives had a majority of 110 seats in England though only 50 in the nation as a whole. This pushed the Liberals more into the ‘Celtic fringe’, though in Ireland they lost seats to ‘Home Rulers’. Disraeli’s political cleverness lay in the fact that he enabled his party to take advantage of the slowly growing popularity of the Conservatives in the leafy suburbs. His election victory was such that die-hard former opponents such as the 3rd marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903) agreed to serve in his cabinet (India Office).

In August 1876 he moved to the Lords as Lord Beaconsfield - his wife, the former Mary Anne Lewis, had been given the title Viscountess Beaconsfield following the defeat of 1868. He sought to solace his craving for female company in a romantic attachment to two elderly sisters, the countess of Bradford and her sister the dowager countess of Chesterfield.

In spite of his commanding victory Disraeli believed,
Power has come to me too late.
He was 70 and in ill health, suffering increasingly from gout. He had led the Conservatives in the Commons for twenty-five years, though with only three brief periods on office. Now he had a substantial parliamentary majority but what was he to do with it?

His beliefs are hard to determine. He believed in a vague Christianity and was remarkably ignorant of Judaism. He was uninterested in the moral and intellectual problems of the day. In 1863 speaking in the Sheldonian in Oxford, he dismissed the Darwinian debate:
I am on the side of the angels.
This type of flippancy infuriated the intellectuals.

He also had a fantastic devotion to Queen Victoria, whom he figured as the second Gloriana, and styled to his inmates ‘the Fairy’. His relationship with her was similar to Victoria's with John Brown. The story that he said ‘we authors, ma’am’ ‘has never been authenticated, but it deserves to be true’. There were occasions when his language, if taken too literally, attributed anachronistic powers to the Queen. The monarchy was steadily losing power, largely as a result of the democratization of parliament and this made Disraeli’s romanticizing very unrealistic.

The Second Disraeli government
In contrast to Gladstone, he did not come into office with a programme of reforming legislation. A great deal of the government’s energy was devoted to the regulation of Anglo-Catholic clergy. In 1875 a disgruntled Conservative MP referred to ‘suet-pudding legislation’.

Disraeli had begun life as a radical, diagnosing England as ‘two nations’, rich and poor. As Prime Minister he presided over social legislation, though most historians do not believe that this was part of a considered programme. It was electorally necessary to make concessions to working-class demands, but his legislation did not mark a substantial shift from laissez-faire to state intervention. His Public Health Act was passed in 1875. His Home Secretary, R. A. Cross, with Disraeli’s full backing, reformed trade union law, by removing strike action from the law of conspiracy. The other major reform of 1875 was the Artisans’ Dwelling Act (1875), which empowered municipal councils to draw up improvement schemes for districts certified as unhealthy by a medical officer - though the scheme had many weaknesses and was never fully implicated. The Merchant Shipping Act was a cross-party measure.

Disraeli's campaign against Gladstone in the 1874 election had been fought on traditional Tory grounds - attacking him for menacing ‘every institution, every interest, every class and every calling in the country’. But these were defensive slogans. He needed others, and found them in two causes, the monarchy and the empire.

Disraeli and imperialism
The traditional version is that Disraeli set out his vision of empire in his Crystal Palace speech of 24 June1872. In it he had claimed that the working classes
are proud of belonging to a great country, and wish to maintain its greatness - that they are proud of belonging to an Imperial country, and are resolved to maintain, if they can, their empire.
But the reference to empire was quite casual, with India barely mentioned.
The two causes came together when he masterminded the visit of the Prince of Wales (described by Disraeli as ‘our young Hal’) to India in the winter of 1875-6. His initiative on imperialism enabled him to position the Conservatives as the imperialist party.

The Suez Canal
In 1869 the Suez Canal had been opened, enabling the journey from Britain to India to be cut by several weeks and some thousands of miles. In 1875 four fifths of its traffic was British, though most British ships continued to use the Cape route. Its strategic importance was even greater than its commercial. In the event of another Indian Mutiny or an invasion by Russia, it could carry reinforcements far more quickly than by the old Cape route.

In November 1785 Disraeli purchased the shares of the bankrupt Khedive of Egypt in the Suez Canal Company for £4m. This was a tricky operation because Parliament was not sitting and it could only be done by loan. The money was loaned by Baron Rothschild rather than the Bank of England. Disraeli to the Queen: ‘You have it, Madam’. To Lady Bradford: ‘The Fairy is in ecstasies’. In fact, Disraeli was confusing the ownership of the Canal Company with the ownership of the Canal itself, and he was wrong to believe that Britain now had a controlling interest in the Canal. But the loan prevented the strengthening of French interests and deepened the British involvement in Egypt. Gladstone was furious and attacked the episode in the Commons - though to no great effect. Disraeli managed to cloak the affair in a mysterious Asiatic melodrama and to claim that somehow the Canal had fallen into British hands.

India
The conferment of the title Empress of India in 1876 was another example of the importance he attached to the British position in Asia. Essentially it arose out of the trauma of the Mutiny and was a counter to the advance of the Tsar into Central Asia. However, the timing was not of his choosing but was chosen by the Queen, who badgered him into giving her the title.
The Empress-Queen demands her Imperial Crown.
It was also part of his policy to consolidate British rule by the reinforcement of hierarchies. By not consulting the opposition over the matter, he caused a row. The Queen never forgave Gladstone for the ferocity of his attack.

The Bulgarian crisis
See other post.
Disraeli despised Gladstone’s ‘ethical’ foreign policy, especially in the Balkans, and, in spite of gross human rights violations, he continued to support Turkish rule.

The Zulu War
In 1879 Disraeli’s relaxed approach to running a government eventually forced imperial affairs upon parliamentary and public attention in a manner highly damaging to the Conservatives. With the discovery of gold and diamonds in South Africa in the 1860s those who wanted to expand British territory there became more assertive.

In the spring of 1877 the Governor and High Commissioner Sir Bartle Frere annexed the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. In an attempt to mollify the outraged Afrikaaners, he then moved against the traditional enemies the Zulus. This was not British government policy: the Colonial Secretary Sir Michael Hicks Beach, told Frere that ‘we entirely deprecate the idea of entering on a Zulu war to settle the Zulu question'. But in an age before the telegraph, it was the men on the spot who held sway. On 11 December 1878 Frere sent an ultimatum to Cetshwayo, the Zulu chief that he knew would be disbanded. He naturally refused, and on 22 January 1879 a Zulu army destroyed General Lord Chelmsford’s temporary base at Isandhlwana. In one of the worst defeats the British Empire ever suffered, 800 white and 500 African soldiers were killed. On the same day 150-155 British troops of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot: later the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal Regiment of Wales, men of the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Army Service Corps, Commissariat and Medical Corps, successfully held off 4,000 Zulu warriors at the Rorke's Drift outpost (a Swedish mission). The following day up to 500 wounded Zulus were slaughtered in cold blood. Eleven Victoria Crosses were (deservedly) won, but this was a smokescreen to disguise the disaster.

The news reached London in mid-February. In a period when racial prejudice was intensifying, a defeat at the hands of black men was a great humiliation and, to make matters worse, the government reacted indecisively. Lord Chelmsford escaped blame by blaming two conveniently dead officers though Disraeli told the queen that he held him responsible for a ‘dreadful disaster’. Victoria was not convinced.

In July that Cetshwayo was defeated and captured at the battle of Ulundi (at which Napoleon III's son, the Prince Imperial, was speared to death), his army destroyed and his kingdom broken up. Zululand was annexed and incorporated into Natal. With the Zulu threat removed, the Boers quickly recovered. In retrospect it had been a grave mistake to go to war with the Zulus, who would have been very useful allies against the Boers.

Cetshwayo was reinstated in 1883 but he died, probably of a heart attack, in 1884.

The second Afghan War
See other post.